UA and GSC join amicus brief filed in DHS, ICE lawsuit

Students’ testimonies describe potential hardships brought by the directive

The Undergraduate Association (UA) and Graduate Student Council (GSC) joined student governments at 15 other U.S. universities in filing an amicus brief July 13 in the Harvard-MIT lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The ICE regulations announced July 6 do not allow international students with F-1 student visas to remain in the U.S if they are taking a fully-online course load.

The brief writes that international students have “contributed immeasurably to the advancement of American higher education and to the American economy,” whose “participation has become an integral part of the American educational experience.”

The ICE directive “reneges” on the “promise” that the U.S. is “a welcoming environment for the pursuit of higher education that benefits all students,” the brief states, adding that the directive is “not only cruel and arbitrary in operation, but also cynical in design.”

The brief provides 13 testimonials from students of various backgrounds, each describing concerns such as financial and familial difficulties, time differences, restricted internet access, visa instability, and COVID-19 health issues related to the new regulations:

  1. TY is an international doctoral student in aerospace engineering and intends to pursue a career with the U.S. government. The directive prevents TY from leaving their home country, and their collaboration with “fellow students and advisors” in the U.S. is “challenged” by a double-digit time difference “which threatens to slow TY’s research and even disrupt it irreparably.”

  2. SF is an Ethiopian master’s student in international development. SF’s program contains approximately 90% international students who “all face the prospect of forced departure.” SF would not be able to participate in their program in their home country because the government “routinely shuts down the internet” from “civil unrest.”

  3. HI is an American MD/PhD student who chose their program “in part for its racial and socioeconomic diversity.” HI’s partner is South American and an F-1 student, whose program announced a fully-online format for the fall term. HI’s partner could face deportation, preventing them from returning to the U.S. for an extended period. Furthermore, HI’s partner “suffers from health challenges” that would put them at risk for cancer without U.S. medical care. HI will face “devastating financial consequences” as their housing arrangement and partner’s job both rely on enrollment in the partner’s graduate program. 

  4. AZ is a Palestinian master’s student who is participating in two internships. Believing that they could remain in the U.S. legally based on the March 13 guidance, AZ canceled a flight home and “extended an apartment lease” to complete the master’s program. Returning to Palestine means that AZ would lose a household, friendships, and work opportunities. Furthermore, Palestine has “unreliable” internet service, experiences “severe political instability,” and has a healthcare system “overwhelmed” with COVID-19.

  5. CM is a Chinese doctoral student expecting to complete a degree in applied sciences at the end of 2020 and “plans to accept” a postdoc position “from a leading national laboratory in the country” starting early 2021. Leaving the country would “jeopardize” CM’s postdoc offer and graduation. Approximately 90% of CM’s program are international students who would have to depart the U.S. Returning to China would not only be economically taxing, but also make education and research difficult due to a 12-hour time difference and China’s internet restrictions and monitoring.

  6. MS is a Greek master’s student. MS returned to Greece May 2020 for an internship, leaving behind personal belongings and an apartment leased through 2021. MS intended to return to the U.S. in August based on the March 13 guidance. MS depends on a scholarship that requires MS to be in the U.S. for tuition and living costs.Due to the time difference and unreliable internet in Greece, it would be impractical for MS to attend classes.

  7. GB is an Iranian doctoral student. GB will lose their exemption from Iran’s mandatory military service if the directive forces them to return to Iran for more than three months. GB would be negatively affected by the “nearly nine-hour time difference” between Iran and the U.S., “the need to access relevant materials via VPNs,” the difficulty of obtaining a new student visa because there is no U.S. embassy in Iran, and the current wave of COVID-19 in Iran. 

  8. KE is an Indian doctoral student in astronomy. If the directive forces KE to leave the U.S., KE will lose their university stipend and on-campus job, causing “financial hardship” for their family. KE is also concerned about exposing family members to COVID-19 after an international flight, sharing a small house with several family members in India, and a nine-hour time difference. KE’s data analysis research would be “near-impossible on India’s internet infrastructure because it requires VPN access to a secured network.”

  9. LT is an Indian doctoral student in cancer biology. LT has spent only two years in India, and their parents live in the United Arab Emirates, so LT would “face significant uncertainty even finding a place to live” if forced to return to India. LT would also be unable to to complete lab experiments and may lose their university stipend. 

  10. DW is a Russian master’s student in public administration. DW’s undergraduate studies at a U.S. university helped them “articulate and work through deep emotional trauma” after being raped before moving to the U.S. If the directive forced DW to return to Russia, DW’s human rights advocacy work might “make DW a target, and risk DW’s life.” DW would also be separated from their immediate family in the U.S.

  11. JB is an Indian doctoral student intending to work in the U.S. as a researcher and educator. JB is concerned about putting family members in India at risk of COVID-19. Additionally, JB would have to leave an apartment, several years of belongings and a significant other (also an international student) and fears returning to the U.S. “may be impossible.”

  12. PR is a Russian doctoral student in physics. PR chose the U.S. to study physics because the U.S.’s funding and resources “far exceed” those of Russia. PR applies for visa renewal frequently due to U.S.-Russia relations. Because of this, PR believes that if forced to return to Russia, “there will be significant obstacles accessing” a U.S. embassy to renew the visa. Additionally, PR has strong concerns about the Russia’s “uncontrolled” COVID-19 situation and the compulsory year-long military service in Russia potentially delaying PR’s education and making visa renewal more difficult. 

  13. OL is a U.S. citizen and Army Veteran and MBA student. F-1 students comprise about 30% of OL’s MBA cohort. Through OL’s MBA program, OL worked on a pro bono engagement for a non-profit serving homeless U.S. veterans; the engagement was led by two of OL’s international classmates from India and China who developed a $5 million plan to build housing for the veterans. The classmates inspired OL by “solving a uniquely American problem afflicting a marginalized community in a country not their own.”

Benjamin Lane G, vice-chair of the GSC External Affairs Board, wrote in an email to The Tech that the student governments “submitted this brief on behalf of all those students whose voices might not otherwise be heard” and “sought to highlight the very personal and human costs, visited on individual students, by a directive that is cruel and arbitrary.”

Lane wrote that all student governments that signed the brief were represented pro bono by the law firms Clifford Chance and Mintz Levin. 

Amicus briefs have also been filed by more than 60 institutions of higher education, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Council on Higher Education, and the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.

Another lawsuit was filed against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE July 13 by 17 states, including Massachusetts.

The hearing on MIT and Harvard’s lawsuit’s temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against ICE will be held July 14 at 3 p.m. EDT.

MIT announced July 7 that for undergraduates, the fall semester would be mostly remote, with some in-person classes offered to undergraduates living on campus. Only seniors were invited back on campus. Non-seniors can request to live on campus through a review process, which will consider criteria such as home situations that “would be unsafe given the circumstances of their country or home life.”

Graduate students had been invited since May to return to campus for MIT’s research ramp-up. MIT’s FAQ on fall decisions wrote that graduate instruction would vary by school and program.

ICE’s previous March 13 guidance, issued in conjunction with President Donald J. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency due to COVID-19, permitted students with F-1 visas to participate in online classes in the U.S. while retaining their visa status. 

ICE noted that the guidance was a temporary provision “in effect for the duration of the emergency,” that it was subject to change, and that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program would monitor the situation and “adjust its guidance as needed.”